Monday, December 31, 2012

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Genre: YA fantasy/ fairy tale retelling
Pages: 310 (available in paperback)
Published: 2011 by Little, Brown

Synopsis: As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.  Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.

Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.  Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.

My Take:

Sweetly was one of those books which had been on my to-read radar for ages, after I read and basically liked Sisters Red, Jackson Pearce's first fairytale retelling.  Sweetly has more in common with Sisters Red than I expected, firstly in that it featured two siblings fleeing unusual life circumstances (Gretchen's twin sister disappeared, apparently taken by a witch in the forest, when Ansel and Gretchen were younger and thus scarred them for life).  I liked Sisters Red because it was so Buffy-esque-- I loved Scarlett's character, her sorrow and toughness and grit.  Our heroine and first person narrator Gretchen does get her a Slayer-on a little bit by the middle of Sweetly, but she and Ansel are no Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Nope, they aren't that kind of Hansel and Gretel.  Gretchen and Ansel are rather Mary and Gary Sue, though not unlikeable.  Sweetly does have a very intriguing character in the form of Sophia Kelly, the candy-maker who the siblings stay with after their stepmother kicks them out of the household.  Sophia's mysterious past kept me guessing and the complexity of her character was the most interesting thing about Sweetly.  Most of the small town of Live Oak blame Sophia for the disappearance of its young women, because girls run away after attending her annual party, but generous Sophia appears to be sweet and saintly as can be-- the patron saint of candy, as the locals say.  As the night of Sophia's candy gala draws closer, Gretchen rushes to uncover the dark secrets of Sophia's past in order to save the girls doomed to disappear this year.  

There is actually a heavy tie-in to Sisters Red which I didn't expect, and this is where I started to become meh about Sweetly.  Jackson Pearce's companion novels are more companion-y than the synopsis might lead you to believe, as the terrifying Fenris werewolves do play a role and a character linked to Pearce's first book, Samuel, becomes the love interest for Gretchen.  I wasn't sold on the romance between Samuel and Gretchen, or the romance between Sophia and Gretchen's brother Ansel.  The ending, though, and the truth about Sophia's past, made Sweetly worth a quick read.  Overall I'm not sure if I will be checking out Fathomless, Pearce's third book in this fairy tale retelling series, which is a spin on "The Little Mermaid".  Sweetly would have been an interesting take on "Hansel and Gretel", except I think that the "Hansel and Gretel" part got lost in the retelling a little.  Don't especially recommend this one unless you're very curious-- except to add that cool cover to your bookshelf! 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

In My Mailbox #27: The Christmas 2012 Edition

It's time to show off all the awesome new books, bookish thingies, and assorted nerdy goodness I received for Christmas this year, courtesy of my amazing family.  This was definitely my biggest book haul of the year and I'm so excited to start reading and reviewing all of these!

Here's what I got:


 I pretty much fell in love with this gorgeously illustrated Penguin Classics edition of Jane Eyre. OK, yes, I've read it-- but this beautiful cover makes me want to read it again!  I'm thinking of a doing a Classics read-a-thon or challenge this year-- I still have read so few of them. 

Still on my current historical fiction kick, both of these books are from the Tudor period.  Innocent Traitor is about Lady Jane Grey and Bring Up The Bodies the sequel to Wolf Hall, one of my favorite reads from this past year.

 These two are more epic fantasy.  I've heard a lot of great things about The Name of the Wind, and want to read more George RR Martin because of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Prisoner of Heaven is a sequel to The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game-- two of my favorites which I've yet to review on my blog. They're sort of Spanish Gothic novels with the love of books as a key theme. Storm Front is the first Dresden Files book.  I'm really interested to try this series. 

Book Breakdown:
-- The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle #1) by Patrick Rothfuss
-- Bring Up The Bodies (Wolf Hall #2) by Hilary Mantel
-- Dreamsongs: Book One by George RR Martin (short story collection)
--Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
--The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
-- Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher
--Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
-- The Prisoner of Heaven (The Cemetery of Books #3) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Assorted Thingies:

 I definitely love the Soft Kitty t-shirt (from The Big Bang Theory) and the Gandalf Lord of the Rings Funko Pop thingy. (On a side note, I saw The Hobbit and it was fantastic!) 

What's in your mailbox this week?  Leave me the link to your post when you comment and I'll come check out your latest bookish acquisitions.  :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Follow Friday (#34)

Hello  to everyone hopping by from Follow Friday (hosted as always by Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read)! I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas/ other holiday which falls around the winter solstice, and received many fantastic books.

Anyway, for those who don't know, I'm Kat-- reader and reviewer of mostly YA, fantasy, historical, and scifi-esque fiction.  If you'd like to keep with my reviews and general book blabberings, you can subscribe to my blog via GFC, RSS feed, email, or Twitter-- whatever best floats your boat.  I also love new friends on the most awesome bookish website, Goodreads.  Leave a comment with a link to your Follow Friday post, and I'll be sure to visit/follow you back!

This week's FF blogger question is:

Q: What book do you think everyone should read? If you could gift the entire population with one book?

My answer: This may be the toughest FF question ever!  I will absolutely have to cheat; there's simply no way around it.  I would give the entire world population a stack of books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (like our featured blogger's pick), To Kill A Mockingbird, maybe Life of Pi because of its bits on religion.  Nothing original here, I'm sure, but I would also like to gift everyone with a copy of Pride and Prejudice in their respective language.  It would be beyond awesome, if everybody went around talking like Jane Austen's characters all the time.  Or like Chaucer from The Canterbury Tales...OK, that would be annoying!  I'll add Pride and Prejudice to the stack and leave Chaucer, but seriously, I think everyone deserves to read the magic that is Harry Potter at least once in their lives.  I'd absolutely love to hear ya'll's answers to this question, since I'm indecisive/stumped on this one.  Happy hopping and be sure to leave your links!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis

Genre: historical fantasy
Pages: 468 (available in paperback)
Published: 2009 by St. Martin's Press

The passionate story of a queen who loved not wisely . . . but all too well.

Confidante of Nostradamus, scheming mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots, and architect of the bloody St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Catherine de Medici is one of the most maligned monarchs in history. In her latest historical fiction, Jeanne Kalogridis tells Catherine’s story—that of a tender young girl, destined to be a pawn in Machiavellian games.  Born into one of Florence’s most powerful families, Catherine was soon left a fabulously rich heiress by the early deaths of her parents. Violent conflict rent the city state and she found herself imprisoned and threatened by her family’s enemies before finally being released and married off to the handsome Prince Henry of France. 

Overshadowed by her husband’s mistress, the gorgeous, conniving Diane de Poitiers, and unable to bear children, Catherine resorted to the dark arts of sorcery to win Henry’s love and enhance her fertility—for which she would pay a price. Against the lavish and decadent backdrop of the French court, and Catherine’s blood-soaked visions of the future, Kalogridis reveals the great love and desire Catherine bore for her husband, Henry, and her stark determination to keep her sons on the throne. 

My Take:

So, I had read exactly one other book about Catherine de Medici, the Florence-born Medici girl who was basically auctioned off to marry Prince Henri of France and ended up mothering many children and becoming the infamous Madame Serpent due to her conniving and sometimes cutthroat moves to keep the throne.  (Whew.  That's Catherine in an unwieldly nutshell.)  It was this book: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by CW Gortner.  I keep getting the feeling while reading The Devil's Queen that it wasn't as historically accurate as this other book, which also cast Catherine in a sympathetic light, which bugged me a little. 

Part of the premise of this historical fantasy novel is, you know, fantastical.  Catherine supposedly did terrible magic in order to conceive all her children and keep them and her beloved husband Henri healthy and on the throne.  This has some historical basis, since Catherine did have an astrologer for a close friend-- Cosimo Ruggieri-- and she was a firm believer and practitioner of astrology.  It was an interesting take on history, anyway, though the story took dark turns because of the sacrifices Catherine was forced to make for France and for her family.  Like I said, there are some glaring historical inaccuracy thingies which may get on the well-read history lover's nerves (I didn't mind, but then I'm not that well-read in history!).  Like, most of Catherine's ten children aren't mentioned in the novel and the ones that are have been re-named (probably because half of them were named Henri, to avoid confusion).

The story is consistently interesting and flows at a great pace for a historical novel: not a thriller by any means, but much faster-paced than many I have read.  My favorite minor character-- Catherine herself and Cosimo Ruggieri, her astrologer and a sorcerer who aids her throughout her long life, were my favorite major players-- has to be the young Mary, Queen of Scots.  She's completely devious, to be such a young woman, and oddly enough a bigger rival to Catherine in this version than the infamous Diane de Poitiers (wasn't impressed with Diane in this novel-- liked her better in Confessions and even in AP Euro History).  The conflict between the Catholic Catherine and her children and the Navarre faction of Huguenots was the more action-packed part part of the novel, though her relationships with her husband and sons and daughters were interesting, too.

The novel really makes a reader re-think whatever they've heard about the so-called Black Queen and Madame Serpent, Catherine de Medici.  Catherine is a very sympathetic and realistic character-- even when she has to horrible things in order to save her family, I was able to understand why she did them.  The saddest thing was how all her children kept dying as soon as they reached the throne-- it must have been a horrible thing for Catherine as a mother, for all her many children save one (Margot) to die before her.

The twist ending of the story-- both the surprise twist of the action, which involves a betrayal I never saw coming, and the romantic twist on the very last page of the novel-- completely threw me off.  The Devil's Queen is a very entertaining yarn about Catherine de Medici, a mix of history, romance, royal court intrigue, witchcraft, and suspense.  I 100% recommend it, if this sounds like the kind of mad-cap mix you would enjoy.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Interview with the Vampire: Claudia's Story by Anne Rice & Ashley Witter

Genre: graphic novel
Pages: 256 (hardcover)
Published: November 2012 by Yen Press

Synopsis: A richly-illustrated adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, told through the eyes of the vampire Claudia, who was just a little girl when she was turned by the vampire Lestat. Though she spends many years of happiness with her two vampire fathers, she gradually grows discontent with their insistence upon treating her like a little girl, even though she has lived as long as any mortal man...and her lust to kill is certainly no less than theirs...

My Take:
I had to have this beautiful graphic novel.  Firstly, because Interview with the Vampire is one of my all-time favorite books and Anne Rice has been one of my favorite authors since I was a pre-teen.  Second, just look at that gorgeous cover!  I had serious cover lust over Claudia's Story, and the pages between the covers are no less beautiful or intriguing.

The art is beyond gorgeous: every illustration is perfectly shaded, with splashes of carefully-placed crimson which perfectly compliment the story's dark feel.  The three main characters-- the doll-like Claudia, sensitive, dark-haired Louis, and of course, the arresting and impulse Lestat-- are portrayed as very similar to their characters in the movie Interview with the Vampire.  Some of the illustrations are gorgeous enough to frame and artist Ashley Marie Witter definitely proves that she's a fantastically-talented artist in this graphic novel, her debut.

Claudia's Story essentially follows the exact same storyline as Interview with the Vampire, examining the conflict and dynamic between Claudia and Louis and Lestat, her two vampiric "fathers", to whom she must cling because she is an eternal little girl and cannot care for herself.  As Claudia, a vampire created as a child, grows mentally and emotionally older, she begins to resent her fellow vampires for creating her, for trapping her inside a child's "doll-like" body forever.  She has no hope of gaining independence, of fulfilling her terrible blood lust on her own, or of becoming the woman she became long ago in her heart and mind. 

Many direct quotes from Interview are used in Claudia's Story, along with some of Claudia's internal monologue, written in the slightly melancholy narrative style typical of Louis's monologue style in Interview.  I don't feel like we readers learn very much about Claudia's character, or a single new thing about the plot, that was not revealed in the original novel.  I didn't really mind, though.  This graphic novel is entertaining and faithful to the original Anne Rice canon.  The art, as I said, is beyond belief.  Anything Ashley Marie Witter illustrates in the future, I will almost certainly be reading.  I really hope this book sells a ton of copies-- at least as many as the Twilight graphic novels have, especially considering that the art of Claudia's Story is about ten times more mature and well-drawn.  And, you know, Claudia and Louis and Lestat do a very minimal amount of sparkling.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Legend by Marie Lu

 (Book #1 in the Legend series)
Genre: YA dystopia
Pages: 305 (hardcover)
Published: 2011 by Putnam

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

My Take: 

I stumbled across Legend in my university's library, of all places.  I was, like, wait, ya'll don't have any fun books!  Who donated this fun book which I've seen all around the blogosphere to your collection of psychology textbooks and ancient Babylonian tablets?  Needless to say, I snatched what's probably the most entertaining book in my uni's library and took it back to my dorm.

Legend is definitely a YA dystopia, and a decent one at that.  It has all the elements I've come to know and love (maybe know a little too well).  The story alternates between the POVs of June and Day; their POVs are very similar in nature, despite their vastly different backgrounds-- June being a rich and brilliant military girl and Day a superb athlete and tactical genius from the slums and the Republic's most wanted criminal.  He's also a fifteen year old teenage boy-- must try to suspend disbelief.  Day and June have some Insta-love going on, and I wasn't all that captivated by their romance despite liking both characters fairly well.  (Day more so than June.)  
But, anyway, the dystopia cliches are everywhere.  This part of the former United States is called "The Republic of Panem".  There is a mysterious group of people from outside their borders, called District Thirteen the Colonies, who are considered terrorists trying to break the idealism and peace of the Republic.  (Yeah, right.)  The Republics are plagued by terrible strains of plagues which mysteriously seem to hit the slum districts with surprising accuracy.  On every child's tenth birthday, they are forced to undergo a government-mandated Trial to see if they are intelligent and strong enough to become a worthy member of the Republic, or fail and are sent to a "labor camp".  (Uh.  Huh.)  Needless to say, the-government-is-lying-- that's the biggest dystopia cliches there is, but it goes far beyond that.  The nature of the military, June's initial disbelief that her Republic could be hiding anything, the incredibly athletic and planning skills of the teenage protagonists, and the Insta-love despite June having a good reason to hate Day when she first meets him.  

In short, I don't feel like Legend is an original kind of dystopian story.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy it: this is a great quick read, perfect for, say, breaks between studying for finals week.  I think Marie Lu is a pretty skilled writer, even if a little cliched, and I liked the characters of Day and June and her brother Metias.  (The villain, or probable villain-- this is the first book in a series-- was one of the flattest I'd ever read about, though.  The "president" figurehead type is just about like President Snow.)  I thought it was cool how the Colonies seems to be the people in the Southeastern US (waves) and how the residents of the Republic don't realize they were once joined in the union of the United States, but see them as terrorists.  

The next book hints that we will see a lot more of these Colony spies and so-called terrorists-- I can't wait, because I have the feeling that, like District Thirteen, they have more than a few more tricks hidden up their sleeves than the Republic is willing to admit to its citizens or soldiers.  You know how the citizens of dystopian civilizations are: they know nothing.

If only these citizens/military personnel would read more dystopian YA, they might realize that their government is: poisoning people/ kidnapping them and experimenting on them in laboratories/ turning them into flawless soldiers or that those government-mandated pills are actually causing them to be devoid of emotion/follow all orders, then, well, I guess there wouldn't be a dystopian genre.  And that would be no fun.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

End of the Year Book Survey 2012

I've never done an end-of-the-year survey before, but it sounded like a fantastic idea.  Especially since I hardly posted during the first half of 2012, and honestly, I read so many great books which I never reviewed on my blog but really want to feature.  Anyway, this End of Year Book Survey is hosted by Jamie over at The Perpetual Pageturner, where she has her initial post and a linky to tons of other bloggers' round-ups of the best and worst books they read this year-- BONUS: anyone who adds their post to the linky before January 10th has a chance to win a book of their choice that was featured on somebody's list!  Without further ado...

1. Best Book I Read in 2012
Best YA: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Best Adult Fantasy: A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
Best Adult Historical: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

2. Book I Was Excited About & Thought I Was Going To Love More But Didn’t?
The Gunslinger (Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King & The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
I liked both of them, actually, but neither were as good as I'd hoped.  The Casual Vacancy was doomed never to live up to my expectations, I guess, and The Gunslinger just didn't live up to its hype...I've heard the next books in the series are supposed to be better.

 3. Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2012
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
This is a book about a Hawaiian island inhabited by people slowly dying of leprosy.  It's also one of the most amazing, poignant, and just beautiful books I've ever read-- definitely a new favorite.

 4. Book I Recommended Most to People in 2012
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien-- because of the movie coming out (in just a few days!) 
5. Best Series I Discovered in 2012
The Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik (first book= His Majesty's Dragon): excellent fantasy series about dragons in the Napoleonic Wars

The Wolf Hall series by Hilary Mantel: I still haven't read Bring Up The Bodies, but I definitely can't wait to!   
A Song of Ice and Fire: Technically, I read the first two books in this series early last year, but it was only over this summer that I started to become really and truly obsessed with the series-- the HBO show probably contributed to this, and the release of A Dance with Dragons  

6. Favorite New Authors I Discovered in 2012 
Terry Pratchett (I decided to try his Discworld books and other books after reading Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman(!)

Carlos Ruiz Zafon (I read The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game this year-- he has a beautiful writing style)  

7. Best Book That Was Out of My Comfort Zone/ From A New Genre 
Beloved by Toni Morrison 
Read this one for school.  It was fairly good, but so different from the books I usually like to read.

8. Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book in 2012
BZRK by Michael Grant 
 Wouldn't expect less than consistently thrilling from Michael Grant.  I'm excited to read the next one in this series next year.

9. Book From 2012 That I'm Most Likely To Re-read Next Year
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Well, I have re-read it every year since it first came out.  
10. Favorite Cover of A Book I Read in 2012
I didn't read many books with pretty covers this hardly any at all.  I liked the cover for China Mieville's Railsea.

11. Book That Had The Greatest Impact on Me In 2012
Hmm, tough one...I guess The Fault In Our Stars, again.

12. Book I Can't Believe I Waited Until 2012 To Finally Read
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

13. Shortest & Longest Books I Read in 2012
Longest: A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin (1,128 pages)
Shortest: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (213 pages) 

14. Best Book That I Read Based Solely On A Recommendation
Never Let Me Go By Kazuo Ishiguro 

17. Book(s) I'm Most Anticipating for 2013
 Splintered by AG Howard
Light by Michael Grant
Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In My Mailbox #26: The Urban Fantasy Edition

This post is so named because I'm seeing a definite theme in the books I bought and received this past week-- it's all very fanciful in nature, and all very urban in setting.  I've been very stressed out lately, what with the semester drawing to a close and studying for exams, so a little escapism and some fun reads are exactly what I need right now!

Here's what I got:



--Shadowhunters and Downworlders: A Mortal Instruments Reader (an anthology) edited by Cassandra Clare
--Sweetly (Fairy Tale Retellings #2) by Jackson Pearce
--Trapped (Iron Druid Chronicles #5) by Kevin Hearne
--Legend by Marie Lu

All in all a very good, though small, haul!  I'm so happy to finally get my hands on Trapped, and I'm finding the Mortal Instruments book really interesting.  
So, what's in ya'll's mailboxes this week?

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